Archive for ISBA

Cancún, ISBA 2014 [day #3]

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , on July 23, 2014 by xi'an

Cancun13…already Thursday, our [early] departure day!, with an nth (!) non-parametric session that saw [the newly elected ISBA Fellow!] Judith Rousseau present an ongoing work with Chris Holmes on the convergence or non-convergence conditions for a Bayes factor of a non-parametric hypothesis against another non-parametric. I wondered at the applicability of this test as the selection criterion in ABC settings, even though having an iid sample to start with is a rather strong requirement.

Switching between a scalable computation session with Alex Beskos, who talked about adaptive Langevin algorithms for differential equations, and a non-local prior session, with David Rossell presenting a smoother way to handle point masses in order to accommodate frequentist coverage. Something we definitely need to discuss the next time I am in Warwick! Although this made me alas miss both the first talk of the non-local session by Shane Jensen  the final talk of the scalable session by Doug Vandewrken where I happened to be quoted (!) for my warning about discretising Markov chains into non-Markov processes. In the 1998 JASA paper with Chantal Guihenneuc.

After a farewell meal of ceviche with friends in the sweltering humidity of a local restaurant, I attended [the newly elected ISBA Fellow!] Maria Vanucci’s talk on her deeply involved modelling of fMRI. The last talk before the airport shuttle was François Caron’s description of a joint work with Emily Fox on a sparser modelling of networks, along with an auxiliary variable approach that allowed for parallelisation of a Gibbs sampler. François mentioned an earlier alternative found in machine learning where all components of a vector are updated simultaneously conditional on the previous avatar of the other components, e.g. simulating (x’,y’) from π(x’|y) π(y’|x) which does not produce a convergent Markov chain. At least not convergent to the right stationary. However, running a quick [in-flight] check on a 2-d normal target did not show any divergent feature, when compared with the regular Gibbs sampler. I thus wonder at what can be said about the resulting target or which conditions are need for divergence. A few scribbles later, I realised that the 2-d case was the exception, namely that the stationary distribution of the chain is the product of the marginal. However, running a 3-d example with an auto-exponential distribution in the taxi back home, I still could not spot a difference in the outcome.

Cancún, ISBA 2014 [day #0]

Posted in Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on July 17, 2014 by xi'an

Day zero at ISBA 2014! The relentless heat outside (making running an ordeal, even at 5:30am…) made the (air-conditioned) conference centre the more attractive. Jean-Michel Marin and I had a great morning teaching our ABC short course and we do hope the ABC class audience had one as well. Teaching in pair is much more enjoyable than single as we can interact with one another as well as the audience. And realising unsuspected difficulties with the material is much easier this way, as the (mostly) passive instructor can spot the class’ reactions. This reminded me of the course we taught together in Oulu, northern Finland, in 2004 and that ended as the Bayesian Core. We did not cover the entire material we have prepared for this short course, but I think the pace was the right one. (Just tell me otherwise if you were there!) This was also the only time I had given a course wearing sunglasses, thanks to yesterday’s incident!

Waiting for a Spanish speaking friend to kindly drive with me downtown Cancún to check whether or not an optician could make me new prescription glasses, I attended Jim Berger’s foundational lecture on frequentist properties of Bayesian procedures but could only listen as the slides were impossible for me to read, with or without glasses. The partial overlap with the Varanasi lecture helped. I alas had to skip both Gareth Roberts’ and Sylvia Früwirth-Schnatter’s lectures, apologies to both of them!, but the reward was to get a new pair of prescription glasses within a few hours. Perfectly suited to my vision! And to get back just in time to read slides during Peter Müller’s lecture from the back row! Thanks to my friend Sophie for her negotiating skills! Actually, I am still amazed at getting glasses that quickly, given the time it would have taken in, e.g., France. All set for another 15 years with the same pair?! Only if I do not go swimming with them in anything but a quiet swimming pool!

The starting dinner happened to coincide with the (second) ISBA Fellow Award ceremony. Jim acted as the grand master of ceremony and he did great to add life and side stories to the written nominations for each and everyone of the new Fellows. The Fellowships honoured Bayesian statisticians who had contributed to the field as researchers and to the society since its creation. I thus feel very honoured (and absolutely undeserving) to be included in this prestigious list, along with many friends.  (But would have loved to see two more former ISBA presidents included, esp. for their massive contribution to Bayesian theory and methodology…) And also glad to wear regular glasses instead of my morning sunglasses.

[My Internet connection during the meeting being abysmally poor, the posts will appear with some major delay! In particular, I cannot include new pictures at times I get a connection... Hence a picture of northern Finland instead of Cancún at the top of this post!]

no ISBA 2016 in Banff…

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 13, 2014 by xi'an

Banff west-northern range from Rundle, Sept. 10, 2010Alas, thrice alas, the bid we made right after the Banff workshop with Scott Schmidler, and Steve Scott for holding the next World ISBA Conference in 2016 in Banff, Canada was unsuccessful. This is a sad and unforeseen item of news as we thought Banff had a heap of enticing features as a dream location for the next meeting… Although I cannot reveal the location of the winner, I can mention it is much more traditional (in the sense of the Valencia meetings), i.e. much more mare than monti… Since it is in addition organised by friends and in a country I love, I do not feel particularly aggravated. Especially when considering we will not have to organise anything then!

Valparaiso under fire

Posted in pictures, Travel with tags , , , , on April 14, 2014 by xi'an

penalising model component complexity

Posted in Books, Mountains, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 1, 2014 by xi'an

“Prior selection is the fundamental issue in Bayesian statistics. Priors are the Bayesian’s greatest tool, but they are also the greatest point for criticism: the arbitrariness of prior selection procedures and the lack of realistic sensitivity analysis (…) are a serious argument against current Bayesian practice.” (p.23)

A paper that I first read and annotated in the very early hours of the morning in Banff, when temperatures were down in the mid minus 20’s now appeared on arXiv, “Penalising model component complexity: A principled, practical approach to constructing priors” by Thiago Martins, Dan Simpson, Andrea Riebler, Håvard Rue, and Sigrunn Sørbye. It is a highly timely and pertinent paper on the selection of default priors! Which shows that the field of “objective” Bayes is still full of open problems and significant advances and makes a great argument for the future president [that I am] of the O’Bayes section of ISBA to encourage young Bayesian researchers to consider this branch of the field.

“On the other end of the hunt for the holy grail, “objective” priors are data-dependent and are not uniformly accepted among Bayesians on philosophical grounds.” (p.2)

Apart from the above quote, as objective priors are not data-dependent! (this is presumably a typo, used instead of model-dependent), I like very much the introduction (appreciating the reference to the very recent Kamary (2014) that just got rejected by TAS for quoting my blog post way too much… and that we jointly resubmitted to Statistics and Computing). Maybe missing the alternative solution of going hierarchical as far as needed and ending up with default priors [at the top of the ladder]. And not discussing the difficulty in specifying the sensitivity of weakly informative priors.

“Most model components can be naturally regarded as a flexible version of a base model.” (p.3)

The starting point for the modelling is the base model. How easy is it to define this base model? Does it [always?] translate into a null hypothesis formulation? Is there an automated derivation? I assume this somewhat follows from the “block” idea that I do like but how generic is model construction by blocks?


“Occam’s razor is the principle of parsimony, for which simpler model formulations should be preferred until there is enough support for a more complex model.” (p.4)

I also like this idea of putting a prior on the distance from the base! Even more because it is parameterisation invariant (at least at the hyperparameter level). (This vaguely reminded me of a paper we wrote with George a while ago replacing tests with distance evaluations.) And because it gives a definitive meaning to Occam’s razor. However, unless the hyperparameter ξ is one-dimensional this does not define a prior on ξ per se. I equally like Eqn (2) as it shows how the base constraint takes one away from Jeffrey’s prior. Plus, if one takes the Kullback as an intrinsic loss function, this also sounds related to Holmes’s and Walker’s substitute loss pseudopriors, no? Now, eqn (2) does not sound right in the general case. Unless one implicitly takes a uniform prior on the Kullback sphere of radius d? There is a feeling of one-d-ness in the description of the paper (at least till page 6) and I wanted to see how it extends to models with many (≥2) hyperparameters. Until I reached Section 6 where the authors state exactly that! There is also a potential difficulty in that d(ξ) cannot be computed in a general setting. (Assuming that d(ξ) has a non-vanishing Jacobian as on page 19 sounds rather unrealistic.) Still about Section 6, handling reference priors on correlation matrices is a major endeavour, which should produce a steady flow of followers..!

“The current practice of prior specification is, to be honest, not in a good shape. While there has been a strong growth of Bayesian analysis in science, the research field of “practical prior specification” has been left behind.” (*p.23)

There are still quantities to specify and calibrate in the PC priors, which may actually be deemed a good thing by Bayesians (and some modellers). But overall I think this paper and its message constitute a terrific step for Bayesian statistics and I hope the paper can make it to a major journal.


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